Trading in the rocky shoreline of Maine for the granite faces of New Hampshire; Live Free or Die!: My adventure to the White Mountains and Lakes Region.

As it was appearing my stay in Maine would be extended into autumn, due to the ever-continued international Covid-19 health and economic crisis, remaining here for yet another season, and possibly winter too, it was time to venture out-and-about further into the region to see what New England had to offer. Fall in New England, as the expression goes, is spectacular – an explosive vivid symphony of lucid supernatural wonder and beauty on display, nature’s finest fireworks.

A few months prior, while on the patio at my hotel, I met a nice Polish lady from upstate New York, Zuza. She is an interior designer for Hilton corporate brand. She also is an artist who creates the most stunning mosaics. At first, she thought I was a bit strange; not uncommon for people to think such at first. But after some time she and I became able friends. A few weeks later she rang me on my mobile to ask me if I would join her on a trip to New Hampshire.

It only took but a few seconds to figure a decision. “A trip to the Live Free or Die state, I am an emphatic yes,” I told her, as a massive smile grew on my face – my eyes swiftly welling with excitement. The time to get out of dodge had arrived, and with my new friend from New York, we were planning our White Mountains adventure.  She told me, “Steven, it will be a fun quest. We are both in need of some stress relief.” “Oh,” she said, as she was hanging up the call, “I hope you don’t mind my pup joining us.” “No, I love dogs – the more the merrier,” I stated.

Perhaps I should have taken some pause before responding in agreement. As it turns out, her “pup” is more like a small Siberian bear than a dog. Rowan is his name – a 140lb Leonberger show dog, a one-year-old puppy. She tells me, “He is well behaved and loves road trips. He is a rock-star everywhere I take him. You will see.” “Sure Zuza, it sounds as if soon Rowan and I will become good friends.” It was with frightful anticipation I expected meeting the “pup.”

As a few weeks remained before our trip, it was time to plan our mountain exploration. We planned to visit two regions of New Hampshire: Lakes Region in central and White Mountains in the north. As we would also be visiting an old classmate from my school days at BGU in Israel, Matthew, presently the owner of an outdoor style clothing company founded in NH, Lake Life Brand, for a photo shoot in the Lakes Region, our time and schedule were quickly filling up. As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind: Life is meant to be lived, so go live it – Teeth to the wind!

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”

— Mark Twain

Itinerary set, Zuza was to arrive on the following Wednesday, at my hotel in Portland, Maine, to commence our trip with Rowan. About noon, with clear blue azure skies, wispy clouds abound, a black extended Jeep wrangler pulled up in front of the hotel. Hanging out of the window was this over-sized hirsute ball of irascible beauty and beastly allure. He might be the size of a small bear but he has the heart of one too – it was obvious, “Ro” is a big love-bug-bear. Kisses all-round.

In a matter of minutes, bags packed into the back of the Jeep, wheelchair neatly stored away, and Rowan’s spot (substantial, I might add) clearly demarcated – we were finally off on our road trip. “Where shall we go, Steven?” Zuza, like me, loves getting into the car and just driving, driving with no destination in mind. “Ok, sounds fine to me. But please first tell me where we are sleeping tonight so I can plan our day.” Zuza reserved the same Hilton hotel Vernon, my hotel manager, recommended we stay, a sister Giri property where we would be well taken care of.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” 

— J.R.R. Tolkien

It was a bit out of the way but we decided to cross over into New Hampshire from Maine further north and immediately drive the famous Kancamagus Scenic Byway. But first we decided to stop off for lunch at the 302 West Smokehouse & Tavern in Fryeburg, with wondrous scenic views of nearby rolling farm pastures and vistas of the White Mountains far off in the background. After two hours in the sun, a few local delish IPAs consumed, it was time to venture to the mountains.

Once we passed over the line into the state of NH, it was only a short fifteen minute drive to the entrance of “The Kanc” – a 55 km scenic drive, climbing almost 1000 meters in elevation, along New Hampshire’s Rout 112, a carved path that winds itself through the White Mountain National Forest, with endless hairpin turns alongside the Swift River, with breathtaking views of the Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls and Rocky Gorge. NH fall foliage was absolutely brilliant.

At one point on the drive we could see that the top twenty percent of Mount Washington was snow-covered. The cold arctic winds that blow in from Canada were already making their presence felt, if only atop high peaks. But it was still fall, with all its innocent aesthetic beauty at play in God’s cathedral. At the end of the drive we came into a small town with only two choices to eat. We chose to eat Mexican. Afterward, we both agreed to never again eat tacos in NH.

Late into the evening we had a long cold drive to our hotel in the Lakes Region of NH, two hours further south than us. With fall foliage in New England in full bloom, and Covid-19 travel and social distancing measures in place, there were more than the usual amounts of day or weekend trippers in that area. The next morning we were going to meet Matthew and Stacy for a photo shoot for his clothing company at a few local lakes: Silver, Winnisquam and Winnipesaukee.

The morning of my debut as a sexy wheelchair model was one of overcast skies with rain in the forecast – great muted colors for a successful photo shoot, and start to my GQ career. Stacy was a consummate professional; Matt a consummate goofball. It was splendid fun for all involved. Zuza and Rowan even got swept up into the fall photography shoot extravaganza, posing by the lake. Photos of NH and other travels can be seen on my website, Doing The Dirty Dishes.

With the photo shoot behind us, my fifteen minutes of fame fading fast, no longer puparazzi in tow, it was time to explore the Lakes Region. For the next three hours we drove aimlessly and endlessly down any roadway, paved or dirt, that we could enter with a 4×4 Jeep. We ended up in a small, quaint charming town, Meredith. We decided to stop for lunch at Twin Barns Brewing Company. There we would meet three retired professionals from Baston, MA. Never was more fun and laughter had on a brisk Saturday evening in fall than with Sheehan, McGuirk and GG. 

Craig AKA GG is a retired dentist with a penchant for being a considerate guy. He and his close friends all bought mountain homes in nearby Meredith – which has more of a village ambiance than small city. It is the entrance town for tourists wishing to enter the Lakes Region of NH. The town has an intimate and restful feel to it, the perfect place some R&R, especially during a pandemic. On our way of town we stopped at Kellerhaus for some German chocolate decadence.  

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. “

— Gustave Flaubert

After three days of epic excitement in the lakes and mountains regions it was time to migrate more toward the ocean, where New Hampshire owns an immense sliver of beachfront real estate. The Atlantic Ocean coastline of NH is a whopping 28.9 km, the shortest of any state. We were not so interested in the over-stimulating rocky seacoast beaches as much as the port city on the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth. It is a historic seaport and popular summer tourist destination.

Portsmouth, with it noted 17th and 18th–century colorfully painted homes, delicious local seafood restaurants, astounding art and architecture, winding town roads and ways replete with a plethora of parks and outdoor recreation areas, is a romantic town surely worthy of a weekend trip. Since “Chowda” is a staple of New England, each state having their own version (clam, seafood or fish), it was time to sample some local fare. Sanders Fish Market has the best chowder soup and lobster roll in NH. Though the lobster roll was incredibly delicious, Maine still wins the award.    

When Zuza said that Rowan was a rock-star, she was not kidding. Literally everywhere we went with him people stopped to ask about, pet and photograph him. If we were in the car, even at a red light, it made no difference – the “Ro-Bear” was a dog in high demand –people everywhere flocked to him like a reincarnated neon Elvis in Memphis. After my first and only model photo shoot and ethereal fifteen minutes of fame, I was more than willing to give up my throne to my new Ursidae Canis lupis familiaris friend. Thank you Zuza and Rowan for a memorable trip! 

Photo credit: Stacy Cusack Photography

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Thank you for your love and support.

Jettisoned layover in Maine during Covid-19 crisis; Surviving scarcely on lobster rolls, whoopee pies and IPA.

I am grateful the universe guided my way to Maine for summer. There are a lot of locations for jetsam to wash ashore but Portland sure resulted in as serendipitous a coast as any to land. A reserved melancholic state filled with boundless Subarus and massive white pine forest, where I could spend my summer frolicking about in nature, or so I thought. As I soon discovered je ne sais quoi, it was a state of ‘Maniacs’ who know much less about survival in the bush and much more about fine cuisine and craft beers. I was in the right place; there are no mistakes in life.

More on Maine in a minute, but first an update on the wags from Queens, NYC: Bart and his pious compatriots in Pennsylvania (owners of the Hilton Garden Inn at JFK, NYC) provided round two of comedic relief after their abhorrent treatment of me at their hotel while stranded poor and homeless in NYC. As if their first response to asking me to leave their hotel, under a discriminatory (non-existent) 14 day stay policy, was not humorous enough, the second reply through their attorney wins the ‘almost Darwin’ medal of honor, a world-class pisser.

In my second week at the hotel from hell, while attempting to transfer from the toilet to my wheelchair, the grab-bar I was using for support broke off from the wall, leaving me to find support on a hard tile floor. Their lawyer, in his greatest vomit of jester twaddle, attempting to make me look bad, as vacuous his basis and unsound his argument, however sophomoric and ill-prepared his research and statement, replied to the NY State AG’s complaint by insinuating: 1. It was a made-up story; 2. It was revenge against their ‘raved about’ General Manager, Tracy Kass; and 3. I intentionally caused the grab-bar to break off from the wall. Bartholomew, please send me a package of what your Lancaster crew feeds you for breakfast – evidently reality changing.

It is hard to believe such saints still exist in this world but notwithstanding their holiness, I will address these delusional saboteur swines who treat loyal Hilton customers like trash then cower and hide behind a half-assed inept lawyer who I would not hire to defend my trespass dog. Allow me to pull back the curtain for you: 1. Your hotel clearly partakes in discriminatory practices – easily verified through other guests; and 2. I could have called an ambulance, sued and definitely walked with a settlement, akin to your ilk – but I did not, I chose the high road. To what end?!

None of your attorney’s baseless accusations are worthy a reply except only to rebut: 1. Permit me take away the function and operation of your legs and see how well you can stand up to pull a screwed-in bar, almost one meter above the floor, from the wall and 2. You first could start off by complying with Federal ADA and NY State bathroom building code(s) – your grab-bar was not mounted to wall studs. It was anchored into sheetrock, unable to handle load – sure to get you multiple city infractions upon [further] inspection; and assuredly, possible future litigation.  

Hilton Honors has still yet to sufficiently address the situation or provide an adequate reply. They recently reported earnings to Wall Street, Q2 77% revenue decline. As well, Hilton has had to close 1000 hotels and has experienced a 56% decline in room revenue resulting from Covid-19. And this is how you respond to true-blue customers – silence? What are you so busy doing that customer service has fallen off the radar?  One might think they would choose to treat their Diamond members a teensy-weensy better – but do not hold your breath. J.W. awaits my return.

As I mentioned in my first blog concerning being stuck in NYC under Covid-19 crisis, it did not take long in the car before my attitude and energy were on the rise. As my good friend Elena drove out of NYC, up Interstate 95 towards Maine, the excitement of visiting The Pine Tree State was palpable. We arrived into Portland later than expected. George at the Black Elephant Hostel was gracious enough to provide me an emergency number I could call to be let in. Safely ensconced by the cozy fire, cup of tea in hand, I was where I needed to be. Puff, puff, pass.  

For the next eight days my home was the Black Elephant Hostel, a boutique hostel with a bohemian savoir-faire, owned and operated by a saucy local entrepreneur and former New Jersey native, previously in the horse business, Heather. George kindly reserved me a room that was ADA compliant. The bathroom in the room was exceptionally spacious, a real treat to a traveler in a wheelchair. As well, the kitchen was drafted by architects with the injured in mind; designed pragmatic and utilitarian, sunlight abound, a great place to congregate for mid-afternoon tea.

Aside from a superb kitchen you will also find a delightful general room with comfortable chairs, a table and a layout couch for a relaxing fireside chat or read and an outside patio and lawn area for joining other guests for a smoke or drink or chat. Marijuana is legal in Maine – becoming fully legal for retail sale in October, 2020. The outdoor garden seating area is a great place to meet with friends over a joint and discussion of transcendentalism. Albeit a cheeky owner, the staff, most especially George and Isabelle, was super helpful and caring, always willing to assist.

My over-confident exuberance was quickly replaced with worry and anxiety as summer housing was not panning out as originally thought. Housing is at a minimum in Portland. Real estate well over priced, is in a bubble. A few places did become available but then quickly turned south as one informed me the roommate no longer wanted me as a roommate (only after informed about my injury) and the other did not want my wheelchair banging up his thirty thousand dollars in new upgrades to his double-wide trailer. Anyway, probably prudent I do not appear on Springer.

Was coming to Maine the right choice? Of late, with housing options once again slipping out of reach, and money a wee bit short, it appeared inexorably I had placed myself in a worse off situation than in NYC. In spite of all successive otherwise invincible obstacles, I remained overly brimming with bold perseverance and infinite hope. What would I do now? Where would I go, sleep? Staying in a hostel was surely not the answer. It was expensive; not a long term solution.  

After receiving some unsolicited compassionate help from a few friends, I was able to get a room at the local Hilton in order to reassess the situation and come up with a new plan. It soon became clear that I was in need of additional assistance; I had just become poor and homeless in Maine. It is similar to being poor and homeless in NYC but surrounded with more congenial people and prettier scenery. After five torturous days of having no-where to sleep I was ready to give up.

However, something deep inside told me it would be ok, that this unfortunate situation too shall pass. As if the universe was testing me to make sure I truly had given up control of the wheel of life. The lesson(s) must always be worked through and understood before one can advance past the incessant hurdles of life onto increased mental capacity and psychological resolve. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind: One first must pass through darkness before they can enter into the light; it is a journey, not something you can order up from the fast-food universe. There is no free ice cream in the world – all is well-earned, graced upon you – endowed by your higher-self.  

The Vedic astrology reading, a gift from Sunita, I had from Nepal in June was coming true: I was warned I would face four months of hardship, having to rely on others for my survival: Doing the Dirty Dishes of life – only to emerge into the shining light whence soon thereafter. So I was now in the thick of the fight, in the middle of battle. As it turned out I did not qualify for any general assistance in Maine. Apparently the $178 in my checking account was not broke enough. The YMCA manager was able to find me a room but sharing one bathroom with forty other men on one floor, with my injury’s requirements, and its high costs, would not have been feasible.

After two weeks of being bounced around Portland like a pachinko ball in a Tokyo parlor it was time to give in and stay at a hotel. Portland is not a cheap city for lodging – and already suffers from a housing shortage. The manager at the Hilton did not want me to leave to another Hilton branded property for an extended stay so he offered me an amazeballs daily rate [to stay at his location]. It ended up being cheaper to stay there per night than the local hostel. I gladly accepted the deal. Vernon, Tim, Gudrun, Stephanie, Les, Al, Seonye and all staff were absolutely first-rate.

Once settled in and feeling a bit of wanderlust, it was time to explore what Maine had to offer. The most northeastern U.S. State sated with stunning ocean and lakes, craggy rocky coastline, limitless verdant forest, winding mountains and rivers, marvelous lighthouses and ripe maritime history, it is an outdoor wonderland – loaded with supernatural beauty at every new rocky cove. Our day trip to Sebago Lake with Joe, our new friend from Park Slope, Brooklyn, whom we met in the local hostel, was a proper introduction to the outdoor allure and natural grandeur of Maine.

One day Elena decided to take me on a road trip, a magic trail replete with drinks, food and breathtaking panorama. We ventured north 160 km to Camden, famous for its high mountainous peek, scenic vistas and gorgeous views of the harbor and surrounding landscape. We had stopped on our way into town at a local oyster farm, and along with the healthy snacks, pita and hummus Elena packed, we had ourselves a smorgasbord atop the hill, whilst the sun set over the harbor. After some mouthwatering local seafood and delish beers in town, we were off back to Portland.

One weekend an old friend, Sunita, from Boston, visited with her daughter Hazel. It was a typical summer day in Maine, bright azure sky overflowing with cotton-ball clouds, awaiting outdoor exploration. We ventured to the Head Light Lighthouse, just across Casco Bay at Fort Williams Park. There was a local restaurant’s lobster roll stand just up the hill – wow. No doubt I agree that roadside stands serve the best rolls in Maine. On another day we visited Old Orchard Beach and all its tourist fanfare. On our way home we stopped at Bayley’s Seafood for their NE Clam Chowder and a shrimp roll; also stopping at Clambake Seafood Restaurant for locally fried Maine clams. The best “Clam Chowda” and tastiest fried clams I ever savored, respectively.

A new friend, Rita, from Brasil, the following weekend, invited me out for lobster rolls and oysters. We decided to spend the day at Pine Point, a breezy back-bay sand-grass filled marshy delight where delectable food and drink are served at any number of “famous” restaurants. We settled for the local empire of Bayley’s – this time visiting their Pound Shack, on the water. Social distancing in place, masks off, it was a splendid day of hoppy IPAs, freshly shucked oysters with briny liquor and spicy peel-n-eat shrimp. Next we plan to meet in Rio de Janeiro.

The list of out-of-this-world foodstuffs, pioneered by distinctive carpet-bagging restaurateurs with all the right ingredients to make your taste buds pop with excitement, is inexhaustible. The square pizza at Slab Sicilian Street Food is one of a kind, worthy of review. The Thirsty Pig has the most unique menu of house-made hot dogs [with toppings] and sausages, paired with local beers. After sampling lobster rolls at Red’s Eats in Camden, the lighthouse stand, High Roller, Bayley’s, and one upscale restaurant, Scales, the best was High Roller in downtown Portland.

The local bar scene is as bustling as the food scene, with many locations sharing both honors. The East Bayside district of Portland, with its old emptied-out capacious industrial warehouses and expansive lots, has been turned into an extensive neighborhood of eclectic flavorful micro-breweries. Kris and Marty AKA baby tiger (his 14 yr old Shiatsu) visited one Saturday from New Hampshire. We selected Austin Street Brewery – perfect for sitting outdoor with friends. We ended up pairing with Sarah and Gabe, on their second date, which were sitting at the table next to ours. Later we met Miguel at Rosie’s Restaurant and Pub, where food and drink is served late into the night. And in a town where most places close at 9pm, it is a refreshing godsend.

If ever there was a place to be stuck for the summer, Maine wins the award. Portland has quickly moved onto the top three list of my favorite small US cities for food and beer. A charming and enchanting town, filled with a mix of artistic and liberal personalities, a feeling of unrestricted freedom to expand inside & outside the self, packed with an endless number of satiated artisanal restaurants and drinking establishments, it is certainly a place to visit with an open stomach and heart – without fail, both will be better off after a short visit. They will thank you tremendously.

With Europe unquestionably now in the rearview mirror, as the world is mired in a continuing international health and economic crisis, it begets the million dollar question: where off to next?

Stay tuned!

CLICK HERE for PART I of Covid-19 story: Stranded in NYC, JFK.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher

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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.  

Thank you for your love and support.

Moving to Europe during Covid-19; Becoming poor and homeless in New York City.

After the success of my first book, Unbreakable Mind, endless projects were offered to me but none were a good match. There were many extremely attractive proposals. One was a second book, traveling to ten cities in the world, writing from an injured person’s perspective; an additional for NYT, to travel to 52 countries in 52 weeks, in a wheelchair; and, yet another, to create a travel TV show – but not any were the right fit, not one idea resonated with my soul.

Which avenue to further explore remained unclear until one fateful conversation in early May. I was on the phone with a friend from Amsterdam, a Norwegian-Dominican up-and-coming rap star, David AKA Big Mill, and he had an idea to share. “David,” I asked, “let me guess, another TV show idea.” He replied, “Yes, but this one is distinct.” Well, it was unlike all prior options – different to the point where I loved it. It made sense; it clicked with me – it felt right inside.

The other missing pieces to the puzzle would fall into place shortly thereafter. The morning of the 14th of May, my birthday, for some reason I was nudged to write an old classmate and friend, Adam, now living with his wife and four-year-old in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was recently laid off as an AV Director, a high position in the non-profit world of museums, now in search of a project to develop. I shared my idea for a new travel TV show with him and the rest is history.

After a seven hour conversation, going over every detail possible for how the project could ostensibly work, determining key people and positions needed to make a production company and TV show successful, and agreeing on a pilot location abroad (Amsterdam), we were off to the races. Since Covid-19 has affected so many business-people and investors globally, we were unable to raise the necessary funds. All agreed, signing on to the project on a shoestring budget.

One week later, with all airplane tickets and hotels reserved, my wheelchair supercharged by Gary Gilberti and his amazing team at Numotion Mobility, we were set to start filming pilot footage in Amsterdam in July and August. As I already live part-time in Amsterdam, I was planning on moving to Europe for two to five years. With everything [assuredly] in place, and not being a fan of storing items that others less fortunate could better utilize, especially during a global pandemic, I decided to give away my home, car, all my belongings to those in dire need.

What type spiritual person or leader would I be if I did not practice what I preached, helping others in life anytime one is able, truly living out the words I guide and ask of others to live, if I cannot do so myself? There was no need for me to store away furniture, clothing and other household items while others in my immediate presence were suffering from the current health and economic catastrophe. For two weeks friends and strangers came and took what they wanted.

Everything was going fine, just as planned. My home was donated, flights ready, bags packed and ride to airport sorted. Before flying out to Europe I planned to spend four days in NYC with an old friend, Georgie-boy, who lives across the Hudson River in Jersey City. George is an old and dear classmate from my irascible undergraduate days at Rutgers College; also the General Counsel for our production company. He has a thriving law practice in nearby Newark, NJ.

It was great to be back in NYC, my old stomping grounds in the late 1990s. There is nothing like “The City” – one of a kind, no other place like it on the planet.  We spent an afternoon sunning on the spacious waterfront in Hoboken, NJ, a nice day playing Frisbee in Central Park West, eating amazing Mamouns Falafel and Prince St. Pizza in Greenwich Village. Though it was expected to see murals and damage from prior fortnight’s rioting, it was eerily strange in person.

It was Sunday, a day of respite before flying to Europe on Monday. George and I spent the day having a relaxing lunch at Iberia outdoor café in the Little Portugal section of Newark, NJ. The next morning we were up bright and early, soon off to the airport. When we arrived at Newark International Airport it was nearly empty. There was not but one person at the check-in counter – moi. The Delta terminal was empty. It was June 15th and Covid-19 was in full effect. Wow!

Having never seen such a normally super busy airport terminal this empty in my life, it did not give me pause. George, on the other hand, had a different feeling, and decided to stay with me until I was ticketed to board. After finding a way to get my heavy bags checked in with no fees I thought we were on plan. Then a hiccup: “Sorry Mr. Quigley, you are unable to board the flight to Amsterdam. Dutch Immigration in Holland is denying you entry without proper permission.”

Well, that was a first, and not only a huge surprise but a major setback to a monumental project.  Oh shit! What do I do now? Thank goodness Georgie stayed with me; and thank goodness he was able to put me up at his place until this mess was all sussed out. It was an absolutely horrid situation; and to add salt to the wound, I was right smack in the middle of a Covid-19 USA EU political Visa predicament; whereas the EU would review country entry list every two weeks.

George was gracious enough to see me through the immediate emergency until it began looking like my delay would be a bit longer than originally anticipated. The EU placed a travel ban on Americans’ travel to Europe. And it would not be reviewed again until July 1st.  My new ticket was issued for a direct flight from JFK, NY to Amsterdam, Holland, July 1st. This being the case, and since George had a life to live, I moved to a Hilton close by to JFK airport in Queens.

What started as a journey by giving away all my belongings in order to chase a dream project and move to Europe was swiftly turning into a situation that could easily result in me becoming poor and homeless in NYC. Hotels are not cheap in NYC – nothing is inexpensive in the Big Apple – you pay through the nose. The costs were quickly adding up and what small financial safety net I had set aside was speedily disappearing. I could not last long in a hotel in Queens.

The hotel itself was of no help to my stress and anxiety levels. They had me on the sixth floor, all the way down the hall, in the far corner, in a room that was a very tight fit for a wheelchair, and could only be reached after struggling down one hundred twenty feet of carpet. As if that was not enough, one week into my stay the GM, Tracy Kass, awoke me early in the morning to inform me I would reach my 14 day hotel stay limit after this registration renewal, and she was calling to inform me they could not extend it any further. I was astounded, appalled. Unbelievable!

Miss Kass, later when challenged, changed her story, informing me I did not let her finish, she had more to say on the call – that there was, in fact, no 14 day limit. Three days and three voicemails later, and no reply arrived from the normally overly pugilistic General Manager. Only once it was elevated to Hilton Honors corporate office level did she return my call. This was after numerous emails asking her to send me a copy of the policy. She refused. It does not exist.

Upon complaint to NY State AG, their attorney replied that I did not let her finish, that it was actually a 28 day limit. That is total utter bullshit! Firstly, then why call me only after seven days? Secondly, I met two people outside the hotel who received the same inhuman treatment. Thirdly, all her staff, including her Director of Operations, apologized profusely to me in person for her insensitive, cruel call. It should be noted that all other staff were caring and supportive.

Later that week, while in the bathroom, the grab-bar broke off from the wall while attempting a toilet transfer, sending me straight onto the hard tile ground, injuring my neck and back. Do you think the hotel or GM did anything to help address the issue, let alone make some changes to mitigate a more comfortable stay? No! The room was a disaster for a wheelchair user. My stay in Queens was quickly morphing into its own mini crisis. I was stuck in a cement jungle without any stores. I had only one friend to assist me – Sunita in Boston. Hilton corporate has yet to reply.

With every door opening but quickly closing, I was running out of viable options, rapidly. The immediate future looked grim.  Running out of money (and patience), with no home to move to, with no home to return to, life was proving overly difficult. It allowed my mind to get the better of my heart, lulling it into anxiety, sadness and no hope for the future. Life was grim; I was not a happy camper. After nine years of struggle, I figured this project would run smoothly. Silly me!

After time searching deep inside, meditation and prayer, chats with mentors, close inner-circle friends and spiritual advisors, I decided that I would face the universe’s tests head on. It was time to truly practice my words – taking my hands off the wheel of life, as the universe has it under control. It was another example of ‘Doing The Dirty Dishes’ of life – the Buddhist principle that if you want to get anything done in life you first must put in your effort, getting your hands dirty.

In May, when the project began coming together, one night while deep in meditation, an angel came to me and told me: “Steven, after 46 years of white-knuckling the wheel of life, you can now finally remove your hands [from the wheel], let go, give up control of life (as if you ever had any in the first place) – the hardest lesson for most to learn, aside from reaction and attitude, or living through love – I am now at the wheel, in full control. Wake up each morning and relax.  Forget about your past; do not worry for your future; live in the present moment – the now.”

It all sounded great until I awoke on June 15th, only to be denied entry to a plane that represented my life’s work and dreams. Or did it!? What was the universe trying to tell me through stranding me in NYC? What was the lesson? It did not come at first, but it did not take long to figure it out. The universe was sending me bigger struggles to overcome. Why? 1.To truly test if my hands were off the wheel of life, wholly trusting in the universe 100% ; and 2. At length, it still had to break and broke me before my dream could be realized. I am grateful to both my teachers, the universe.

Three days later a friend from Portland Maine came down to NYC to rescue me. As soon as I stepped into her car I felt an immense 800 lb gorilla freed from my back. Off to Maine.

To be continued….Click here to read part II.

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

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Santiago, Chile with UPenn: Vibrant, colorful and Bohemian, a delightful country I shall visit again.

It would not be my first trip to South America. In years past, many a day was spent on the prominent avenues of Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, it would be my first trip south injured in a wheelchair.  A graduate student at University of Pennsylvania, as part of their MSOD program, I signed up for a course taught in Chile – meant to give students a better understanding of one of the most thriving economies in South America. So many questions arose in my head: How would the flight go; what will the hotel room and bathroom be like; how accessible is Santiago; will I be able to attend all planned program events; will they accept my injury and be helpful, and most of all, how will my overall experience be in Chile?

At first, UPenn did not want to allow me to sign-up for the course. Alan Barstow, Director of MSOD, was not in favor me attending the trip, suggesting perhaps I choose another course.  Horrific discrimination aside, I laughed off his ignorance and sought the permission of the professor, who ultimately had the final decision. He was an intelligent jolly German who, after a short conversation on the phone, granted me permission. After all, he would be facing all the same concerns as me. I have since left the program. If you are a well connected tier-four school student with a 2.3 GPA but are willing to pay, they will find you a spot. I went there to be surrounded by the brightest minds, not the dullest money could buy.

After all, upon writing this article, the program has gone downhill and is approaching its last breath. Alan Barstow, an unpublished Columbia elitist, wholly unqualified to direct anything, has methodically ruined the program – becoming a fraternity of corporate Ivy-Tower sycophants who gladly apply brown lipstick and write the check – thus causing a brain-drain to a former colleague of his, Larry Star – now a UPenn competitor, running a similar program at Jefferson University in Philadelphia. As all things in life are for a reason, as there are no mistakes in life – after becoming an esteemed Ivy-League dropout, I went on to write Unbreakable Mind, now selling worldwide. It can be found on Amazon, iTunes, Kindle and Audible.

With so much planned by the university the trip required especially meticulous planning. We all had to find our own way of transportation to Santiago – instructed to arrive within a twenty-four hour period. Luckily I knew another participant who lived not far from my home and was willing to let me travel with him to the airport.  In the end, a group of us all reserved the same flight from Baltimore, Maryland to Santiago, Chile. The first glowingly obvious fact to pay attention: Chile is in South America, the Southern Hemisphere, and has opposite seasons as the US. So, while it is warm and summer in North America, it is cold and winter in South America.  That means if I could escape for a day I could possibly adaptive ski.

Flight itinerary sussed, it was time to prepare for the trip. Packing was not difficult for me as prior I was a corporate traveler, on the road 90% most months. Packing medical supplies only required multiplying the # days of trip by # needed for each item, per diem. Proper planning for the flight was a bit more complicated. Years ago when I left the hospital I decided I would heal naturally, without any prescribed medications or contraptions attached to my body, which meant I had no urine bag attached to my leg. Once getting past the idea of catheterizing on the plane in front of strangers, anxiety of other bathroom functions set-in.  All that preparation made for a successful first flight – a 500-pound gorilla off my back.

When we arrived at Santiago International Airport everything was a chaotic zoo. People, as far as the eye could see, were jockeying for position at the luggage carousels like hornets protecting a nest. We tried searching for the immigration area to no avail – Doing the Dirty Dishes of life! Where normally there would be an area for diplomats, crew and injured to escape the public mayhem, it did not exist. It was the Wild West: my first experience in an over-crowded second-world airport, quickly becoming long on the tooth. Once sorted with luggage and immigration, we tried finding the group for transport to the hotel. With no group in sight, we decided on a taxi. This was an omen of complications soon to arrive.

Only ten minutes into the taxi ride and it was very quickly evident we were in a developing country. The entire ride on the highway into city center poor shanty-towns peppered the landscape along the hungry Mapocho River (Rio Mapocho),filled with plastic and other rubbish. It begins in the Andes Mountains and flows into the city, dividing the capital into two. This foreground is shadowed only by the power and wealth of new economic development in the background, including the famous Great Santiago Tower (Gran Torre Santiago), at a cost of USD $1 billion. At 300-meters high, it is the tallest building in Latin America and second in the Sothern Hemisphere.  Its six floors of shopping make for an eye-catching day.

Mayhem aside, it was nice to finally start feeling the cosmic energy and vibrant vigor of South America. There is this certain familiar comforting feel you get when there, as if you just entered an old friend’s house for a family sit-down meal together. It is no surprise then that their culture is so hot and spicy; food and dance included.  Latinos are a warm-blooded group, passionate and emotional – the men are overly filled with a peculiar brand of machismo, as if always on stage.  As well, the women, not lacking in their own unique inner special flare, with their fragile psyche always front-an-center on display, are sure to let you know what they are thinking. Taking it all in, I was finally in Santiago, a place I longed to visit.

Santiago, literally “St. James,” also known as Santiago de Chile, Chile’s largest and most densely populated city, its capital, part of the Santiago Metropolitan Region – with a total population of seven million residents, home of well-known poet Pablo Neruda – sits surrounded by stunning snow-capped mountains (Andes and Chilean Coast Range), entirely in the country’s Central Valley, is unlike any other city I have visited. It is the political, cultural and financial axis of the country – making Santiago one of the largest and critically important cities in the Americas. It is also home to many regional headquarters of global companies, only adding to the multi-cultural feel of the city, its inhabitants and neighborhoods.

Founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia, it has been the capital of Chile since colonial times. Though most parts of the government are located in Santiago, Congress meets in nearby Valparaiso. The city is very welcoming, with many parks and neighborhoods to visit and enjoy. It is within one hour of the mountains and Pacific Ocean. Chile’s famed wine vineyards are also only a short drive away.  A seductive and charming city, its winding streets are dotted with astonishing neoclassical architecture, art-deco, neo-gothic, and other styles ascetically pleasing to the eye. Everywhere you go in the city there is a special ambiance in the air – and a bit of smog too, as the mountains trap pollution.

The capital is separated into districts (comunas) and further into neighborhoods (barrios), each with its own distinct lively character. As good friends live in Las Condes, an area of upper income households, I visited but we soon left for an area with a bit more excitement. By far my favorite barrio is Bellavista, a Bohemian area with lots of street art and performers, as well as amazing night life. The barrio is super-energetic and animated, filled with great bars and restaurants for dining outside (winter is mild enough to still sit outside with LP lamps) with friends. Pablo Neruda, famed Chilean poet, has a home here: La Chascona. The barrio also provides entry to Santiago’s Metropolitan Park – with amazing city panorama.

As we were there on a university program, the focus was not so much on enjoyment in the city (mine was) but rather the budding economy and industries that dominated that arena. One day we had lunch at the Union League of Santiago (Club de la Union), a key influential institution in Chile’s history and future. In its heyday it had over 10,000 members, literally making it the center of Santiago’s public affairs and high-society. I could only imagine what the group of influential heavyweights joining me for lunch thought of me catheterizing at the table (was too involved to get to the loo in time). At one point, Oscar, the manager from South Africa, had to physically carry me to the toilet – the door dated to 1925.

Authoritative buildings and pretentious titles aside, it was time to see Chile outside the big city. One day we visited the largest copper mine in the world, run by Codelco – nationalized in 1971 as a state owned mining company.  We also visited a private farm where artisan cheeses were produced for export, mainly goat. The world renowned Chilean vineyards are not a far drive from the city. One day was spent at a boutique winery, where the tasting was generous and food gourmet. By far, my favorite excursion was our trip to Valparaiso, the coastal port city most well known for its street art, steep hills and colorful clifftop homes. European immigrants left their mark on local design, mostly nearby Plaza Sotomayor.

On our one free day I decided to hire a private driver for eight hours to take me to diverse sites outside Providencia district limits. My driver, Terod, with his non-existent English and my sub-par Espanol, taxied me to every possible spot a photo could be taken. As skiing was out, our first stop was gorgeous Parque Bustamante, filled with bold designs and cozy cafes, a great place to warm up with a hot drink outside in the brilliant winter sun. We also visited Bellas Artes, Lastarria, Yungay and Barrio Brasil – all very trendy and fashionable barrios, including urban art installations and various museums. The center of Santiago, Centro Historico, home to Plaza de Armas, includes Cathedral of Santiago and National Historic Museum.

As Chile is filled with diverse terrain and old buildings with small doorways and lots of stairs, it can be quite challenging to navigate unassisted in a wheelchair – there are hazards most everywhere you look. Though I did not use the metro, they are in the process of making subway lines more accessible.  Some buildings have ramps but the majority does not. New buses have access ramps and spaces for handicap travelers, otherwise you roll the dice. Still, buildings there have little to no access for disabled travelers.  We stayed at an international hotel and even there, in the lobby, I could not access a bathroom stall. Chile is a wonderful country, one I will return to one day, hopefully next time standing upright – walking.

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

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Thank you for your love and support.

Bruges, Belgium: Your velvety waffles, twice-cooked fries, succulent mussels, tasty beers and rich buttery chocolate are pure decadence.

Belgium was never a country that stood out to me and screamed “come visit” all I have to offer. Truth be told, I did not know what she had to offer other than gastronomic delight.  I first encountered this quietly hidden mischievous country while in community college in the early 1990s. While visiting England, as part of a cultural foreign exchange program, a few of us decided to wonder astray to further explore mainland Europe. Oddly enough, Belgium was only chosen as one in our group was a chef from a big casino in Atlantic City, whose employer was picking up the tab on all food and drink bills as part of a foreign taste discovery tour. Dave was a wild cat who liked to party; lockstep, we all followed his lead.

We had not arrived in Brussels ten minutes before Dave began watering at the mouth over the thought of all the beers and foods he was about to try, and others he had yet to discover. As large casinos are always on the hunt to increase the food variety they offer at their restaurants, twice a year, all expenses paid, they fly selected chefs anywhere in the world to eat and drink, on their dime.  As Dave was already there because of a program the casinos increased his expense account. That is where we came in; the casino was only meant to pay “his” dining costs. Well, I can assure you, it was not eleven minutes before Dave was buying the first round of Trappist beers. It was my first taste of Belgium beer – unforgettable.

For the next three days our motley crew of misfits wreaked havoc on Brussels and our stomachs. I was introduced to a whole new world of food that, until that time, I did not know even existed. A few years earlier my eyes were opened up to the world through international travel, writing one’s own page of history, and now my horizons were being spread even further in a new direction: the refined world of a culinary and oenophile palate. Dave was a true connoisseur, especially all things French. He introduced us to a whole new world – and took us along for the ride, first class. Though we may have been unsure some items he ordered, we tried them all. Not one complaint registered, but plenty of memories did.

My first trip to Belgium was memorable but did not leave me with the immediate desire to return soon without reservation. Fast forward twenty-seven years and I am now spending my summers living in Amsterdam, Holland. A close friend from Philadelphia, Joe, decided to visit me in Europe. What started out as a one week trip turned into two, then into five, before finally settling on an auspicious seven.  We decided we would take a few local side trips within Western Europe to visit some fun places. Spain was a bit too long in an auto for my injury so we flew there, deciding driving to Cologne, Germany and Bruges, Belgium. First stop on our adventure was Bruges – a city visited long before with some fellow comrades.

With all activity of prior nights’ raucous debauchery, those of young ‘innocent’ teens running amok in Europe, long forgotten, it was time for diverging roads and new indelible memories – Bruges awaited. Joe had never been to Europe – it was his first time. As almost always is the case I travel the world solo, so it was super helpful having someone along for the ride. And also someone to relieve me of driving responsibility, which can be quite taxing on my body as it continues to heal and progress further toward walking again. In life, it is only through Doing the Dirty Dishes that one can hope to change or grow as a person. One must get their hands dirty in life, becoming bold, vulnerable, choosing the path less chosen.

Long ago on my first visit to Belgium, a side-trip while on a cultural exchange program in England, we only swiftly visited Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. We were students on the hunt for anything non-academic and everything fun. My trip this time is a bit different as now I travel in a wheelchair. In my recent book: Unbreakable Mind – written for those facing an insurmountable obstacle or struggle in life, or those looking for a great story of motivation and inspiration – I speak on the need of continually broadening and expanding the horizons in your life; when the story ends life begins, and to travel the world is to remove prejudice through cultural understanding. Plan a trip in 2020 ~ hence this blog!

Since we only had a few days to visit we decided to pick one town, reserve a hotel and explore all the popular local sites. We chose Bruges. It is my favorite city in Belgium to visit. Located in the northwest, the capital of West Flanders, it is most well known for its picturesque canals, cobblestone streets and remarkable buildings from the medieval time period.  In previous years, with its huge canal network and access to international seas, the city was known for fishing and extensive European trade. The most distinguished part of town is city center, home to fine Burg Square, where the 14th-century City Hall (Stadhuis) is located, and nearby Markt Square, with its 13th-century Belfry and 83m tower with a view.

We chose to stay in the most central location, a hotel only fifty meters from Markt Square. Knowing the streets would not be forgiving on a manual wheelchair, it was important to be closer to the action. To claim access to the hotel in a wheelchair was difficult would be the understatement of the year; making the hotel clerk’s message to me a few months earlier on the ease of access the overstatement of 2019. Without Joe’s help I would have had a very hard time even getting in the front entrance. There were two hard doors to navigate before entering a one-man elevator with only a hair to spare for the wheelchair. The halls were carpeted, curvy and hilly – all nightmares for a wheelchair. Joe was an angel with wings.

As we had arrived mid-evening, there was no time to waste – local treats awaited arrival to our bellies. What would we try first? Joe was seduced by my description of the best waffles in the world. Well, there was no shops close-by who sold such warm goodness. Joe spotted a fry stand. After polishing off two orders of twice-cooked fries (Dutch are cooked once only) with obligatory mayonnaise (Andalouse), we decided on a drink. As we were already on Markt Square, there was no lack of outside restaurants to sit and enjoy the local delectable eats while enjoying the sun, conversation and amazing people watching. Six hours and three outdoor cafes later, while chatting with Nepalese staff, we closed down the plaza.

In Holland, their neighbor to the north, they prefer to call them Flemish fries (Vlaamse frites). They take their fries seriously in this part of the world, and so that ‘label’ ensures them a guarantee of the highest quality. Belgian fries are best known for being freshly cut, irregularly shaped, thick, distinct potato taste – and, twice-fried, served in a paper cone, they are crispy on the outside and super light on the inside. Flemish refers to Vlaanderen, which is the northern section of Belgium that is Dutch speaking. The Dutch relate well to this part of the country because they share the same language and history. Once upon a time they were the same country. The southern part of Belgium speaks French and is closer to France.

Over the next few days we would explore the city residents simply consider a village. A cosmopolitan yet nostalgic town at heart, with roots in medieval Europe, home to the regions’ most talented artists, an assortment of fine dining, it is an international city of tourists that maintains a small-town heartbeat.  The realm of eats spans from inexpensive street foods to expensive Michelin-star dining establishments. My five all-time delicious items to consume when in Belgium: Trappist monk beers, mussels, waffles, fries and chocolate. There are fourteen Trappist monasteries, six of which are located in Belgium. The city offers all types settings, from street to casual to modern. There is something for everyone to relish.

As you walk through the narrow cobbled streets, past astonishing medieval architecture and buildings such as the Belfry and Rose Hat Quay, exploring the quaint canals – possessing their own special energy, finding hidden off-the-beaten-path gems, feeling the song of this seductive mistress being sung unto your soul.  The easiest way to see the city’s extensive network of canals is by boat tour. The city’s past is affluent and influential, once home to the Hof Bladelin, a part of the Medici banking system. Float by the Jan Van Eyckplein and Burgher’s Lodge, at one time where you could find the city’s famous and elite. The Groeningemuseum displays art of the ‘Flemish Primitives,’ such as Hans Memling and Jan Van Eyck.

The city is best explored on foot – getting out into the streets and seeing what aesthetic pleasures await your discovery. The historic core of Bruges is an UNESCO world heritage protected site. Once you get beyond city limits there is an extensive network of abbeys and castles, known as Brugse Ommeland. Visit the squares, climb the tower and see the cityscape views, eat some of the endless street foods, go to a fancy restaurant, take a bike ride through Loppem Castle – a garden labyrinth built for noble offspring dated to the 19th-century, take a canal boat tour, go to a museum or enjoy the summer sun with friends – savor life. Americans do not pale in comparison – Europeans focus more on enjoying life to its fullest.

Most cities in Europe I visit require navigating public transportation systems, whereas Bruges, village-like and historic, with only tapered canals and cobbled roads to navigate, nonetheless still a daunting task in a wheelchair, is manageable. Regardless, the number of worries never changes. Bruges, with its small doorways and untold stairs, is not for the novice injured traveler. With a bit of meticulous planning, you could have a spectacular trip. And when things do not go as planned, which is often in my case, trust that the universe will see you through it. Otherwise, start with fries and mussels (Moules frites), with a Westmalle Dubbel on tap, followed by a warm waffle with chocolate, strawberries and cream as dessert.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Cologne, Germany: I came for your sausage and schnitzel and got your mustard and bier faschnizzle.

Deutschland, the land of precision engineering and order, beer and sausage, a European powerhouse with world class cities and sports teams, a place where trains are on time (within seconds),where you can find a group of drunk twenty-somethings at the cross-light – at 02:00 in the morning, with a current mix of east and west, along with so many new immigrant groups from the Middle East, a country I first visited almost thirty years ago, is a Republic close to my heart.  Each time I visit, twice in the last twelve months, my enjoyment only increases. Berlin, Hanover and Cologne are all astonishing cities, each with their own individual draw. Never was a bad time had in Germany – this year would be no different.

Most often when I visit Germany it is to see a close, dear friend, Thomas. We originally met over twenty-five years ago when he was an AFS high school exchange student staying with local friends of mine.  His host brother, Baby Snooks, was the younger brother of a close friend and so often we would maintain the same company. Over time his silly fruitiness wore on me and we became friends. After moving back to Germany, one cold winter, he invited me to Tyrol, Austria to ski with his family for two weeks. After that first trip to Europe, I was hooked. Europe was just waiting to be discovered. I also gained a new friend in life, a refined gentleman, from good stock, well-mannered and courteous, with a heart of gold.

Since I spend part of my year living in Holland, Germany is a close drive. And although I love so many different regions and cities in Germany, Cologne is one of my favorite, and also the city Tom happens to currently reside.  Berlin is by far my favorite city in Germany but it is too far a drive from Amsterdam for me at this juncture of my injury. I could do it in two days, whereas Cologne is a one day trip – doable.  Considering stops for food and little boy’s room, taking into account the Audubon and local traffic, it’s a four hour drive. My first trip to Holland, earlier in summer, I visited Cologne for four days. My second trip I decided to take a road adventure with a friend who was visiting me in Netherlands for summer.

Unlike my first journey to Cologne, a few months before, where I had to get into a rental car, attach hand controls for gas and brake, after flying across the Atlantic Ocean throughout the night, only to drive four hours to check-in to my hotel – before heading out that night with local friends for some catch-up and drinks. The next day I paid the price, reminded I was no longer twenty-three. My second trip would allow me the benefit of being a passenger, a superb luxury.  A super helpful strong friend from Philadelphia, Joe, visited me in Europe for seven weeks this summer. We decided on renting a car and visiting Germany and Belgium. It was Joe’s first time in Europe; a summer he’ll soon never forget.

Returning to Cologne brings back so many prior amazing trips’ memories, memories of times had with close companions where the smiles are forever indelibly marked on the soul.  Each time I return, it feels like a homecoming of sorts, the experience only getting richer and richer. Over time I have made many good friends – friendships that continue to flourish the world over. Some friends having moved to other regions and continents of the world, yet communication and meetings continue unabated. It does not hurt that the food is so very delicious, not to mention how good the beer tastes. My favorite German beer actually comes from Cologne – Frueh Kolsch (umlaut amiss), with its roots in this distinctive city.

Soon enough Joe would be introduced to all the spectacular facets of Germany I love so much. Upon approaching Cologne from the highway, the Cologne Cathedral, dating to 1248, can be clearly seen, prominently and proudly displaying Europe’s second highest Gothic spires high in the sky. I can still remember my first visit to Cologne over twenty years ago. Tom’s mother, Gitta, one day after a nice lunch in Moenchengladbach, where his family resided, drove me there to see its majestic beauty; ever since I have been enchanted with this quaint city. This time my arrival was via highway from Belgium, where we stopped first on our road trip. It would be no less glorious this time; both were enamored.

Cologne, Koeln in German, fourth-most populous metropolis, largest city of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with just slightly over one million inhabitants, located 45 kilometers from the capital of the Federal State of Rhine-Westphalia, Dusseldorf and only 25 kilometers from Bonn, where I have some very close friends and ‘second’ family, is a city that tickles my heart strings every time I visit her. Her Gothic charm, welcoming neighborhoods, diverse young population, that o’ so unique tasteful German good behavior, outdoor beer gardens, rich foods and decadent desserts, eclectic art scene with over 30 museums and hundreds of galleries all make for an unforgettable experience.

Cologne is one of the oldest cities in Germany and its name dates back to Roman times. In 50 AD the Romans founded the Ubii village on the Rhine and named it “Colonia.”  As with all Roman cities, massive gates were installed as protection from entering into the city, surrounded by an impenetrable ringed stone wall of protection. It was originally four kilometers long, with nine gates and 19 round towers. Ruins of the Old-City walls and gates can still be found throughout the city. Located next to Cologne Cathedral, the Romano-Germanic Museum (Romisch-Germanisches Museum), has the largest collection of untold archaeological artifacts from the original Roman settlement, on which modern Cologne is built.

While in Cologne I only stay at one place, Motel One. Just like Generator Hostel, Motel One, a distinctive hotel model itself, is expanding throughout Europe at a rapid rate. People absolutely love both places to sleep in Europe – each offering immense value to the customer. I mostly revolve my travel in Europe around those two popular chains.  On my visit Cologne only had one Motel One. This trip they had three. And I just read there are now eleven in Berlin. The creator cut out all the unnecessary costs like room service and daily towels and sheets, including a contemporary room with art and twenty-four hour lobby bar with contemporary furniture to sit and relax with friends. All for about one hundred Euros – Wow!

This trip I stayed at the newly christened New Market (Neumarkt) location. My previous trip was spent at their Old-City South (Alstadt-Sued) place. Both are great locations but the Old-City South is more centrally located to access all the best neighborhoods the city has to offer, and also tourist attractions. The Cathedral (Der Koelner Dom), Belgian Quarter (Bruesseler Platz), Old-City Roman walls, City Center, New Market (Neumarkt), Severinsviertel,  Haymarket (Heumarkt), Rhine River and fine culinary choices to dine out, plentiful in every direction. Cologne is a youthful city, with the hippest culture of any city in Germany next to Berlin – truly a laid-back place to dive into history, the arts and a smorgasbord of fun.

The city skyline is dominated by Cologne Cathedral, Der Koelner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petru, Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, a renowned monument of German Catholicism. Construction in Medieval Europe began in 1248 but was halted in 1473, left unfinished. Work began again in the 1840s and was eventually completed, according to its Medieval plan, in 1880. It is one of Europe’s most fascinating structures and is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. It’s spires, 2nd tallest in Europe, can be seen from afar – they dominate the city landscape – giving it the largest facade of any church in the world. It is something worth seeing in your lifetime.

And just thirty meters from the church doors is the beer house (Bier Haus) of my favorite German beer, Frueh Kolsch. Who ever said that prayer and drinking do not go together. Catholics have wine at mass. Cheers – first round on me. Traditional beer houses in Germany are few and far between in modern times. Beers are delivered to your table by Koebes, traditional trained beer house servers, in tall skinny glasses each sitting in place neatly in a large round tray. When your glass is close to empty, unless a coaster placed atop, another beer is set down in its place, as the server marks your beer coaster with a pencil mark. At the end of the night, they determine your bill by how many strikes are on your coaster.

One day of the trip was spent with Tom’s family: Wolfgang, Gitta, Anja, Nadja and Pele the dog (Gram: @pelleparson).  We decided to visit one of their favorite local beer gardens at the Haymarket (Heumarkt). As Kolsch beer is from Cologne, most places you visit serve that type only. We sat outside under an umbrella, in a lively outdoor walking area and square for the public, nestled among numerous beer gardens and restaurants. This section of the city is also very popular for bachelorette parties. Many a lady-to-be could be seen with her brood in pink in tow, out to party the night away.  Under the afternoon sun great conversation abound, I ordered my favorite, Wiener Schnitzel with skinny fries.

After lunch we all walked to the Cologne Cathedral (Der Koelner Dom) in the City Center district, where we would enter to take a walking tour. The stained glass windows in the church are unlike any other I have ever seen – so large, bright and vivid in color, detailed in story – truly astonishing. Afterward, we headed to Alstadt (Old-City), filled with endless shopping, eccentric street vendors and performers, and food treats. One of my favorite foods to eat in the world is Turkish street food in Germany and next door in Holland. The Belgian fries and waffles are worthy of honorable mention too. The streets in this area of the city are cobblestone and so a bit rough on a wheelchair. Nothing a little street food will not remedy.

Another night an old friend, Yaki, originally from Hong Kong, who relocated to Germany eleven years prior, a budding prospering employee at Motel One well on his way into management (met him my first stay), along with some other local mates, invited us out to an urban public open-space city beer garden in the Belgian Quarter.  Joe and I did not hesitate, immediately after a round of beers sorted, ordering a few sausage platters. There are a few things in the world worth traveling to eat: one is outrageously delicious sausages from Deutchland. Bellies filled with pork and grease, it was time to get down to serious business – beer drinking in Germany. It was a night filled with memories, and a rough morning.

As far as accessibility goes, Germany is a dream country. Only Scandinavia does it better in Europe. The highways are well equipped with accessible bathrooms and numerous places to dine. In one rest-stop in Belgium, on our way driving to Germany, well before Joe got a speeding ticket on the Audubon, in a dedicated family/handicap bathroom, there was DJ music playing aloud, along with a spinning disco ball. That was one hell of a symphonic movement – it filled my eyes with color, sound and tears.  Getting around Cologne is easy in a wheelchair. Taxis are readily available – Uber now too. Public buses are all accessible. Street trams are level to the station for easy accessiblity; underground tram has elevators.

Each and every time I visit Germany it is memorable. It is a country I adore. My ‘second‘ family there was a huge pillar of support in my accident recovery. Traveling there over the years, especially one trip in the middle of my recovery to surprise thank them all in person, has never been easy. It is the maxim forever tattooed on my head: Doing the Dirty Dishes of living – for without doing them, we never learn from our experiences or mature and grow from the lessons of life. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind,: Life begins when the story ends. No longer living a story, I am free to see where the journey takes me now. Often I daydream – pour me a skinny bier, lather my sausage with mustard and faschnizzle my schnitzel.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

My three day adventure to New York City via Greyhound: Next time, I will think twice on transport.

It has been over twenty years since I lived and worked in the “Big Apple,” AKA New York City (NYC). After a couple years, the twenty-four/seven non-stop lifestyle wore on me and eventually I moved back to the Philadelphia area to start a company during the .com boom. “The City,“ as locals call it, had not yet seen the wheels of my chair; unsure if I would ever experience her special embrace again. Many years have passed since my last visit; all these years she has been slowly whispering sweet words of taunt to me, alluring me back into her arms. She is one-of-a-kind, energy unmatched the world over. It would take the invite of an old friend for me to consider dancing with her once again. Dance, we would.

One late morning while stretching in bed my phone rang. George Solano, a close friend from university, was calling. With a growing Law Practice in Newark, NJ, he is an extremely busy man.  What could my crazy irascible friend possibly want today? George recently returned from a one month trip to Ecuador, a trip he invited me on but I was unable to attend as I was in Spain at the same time. So often we tried matching our schedules, making weekends tough and anything longer even tougher. Alas, Georgie had some free time. He invited me to his home in Jersey City for a weekend of pre-holiday cheer. A trip to NYC will take some planning, “Let me get back to you, Georgie.” Two days later I answered, “Yes.”

In my final attempts to be freed of owning a car, I stumble here or there how to get certain places. It is no secret that public transportation in the United States does not compare to other industrialized nations, especially Europe, where I also live. And now that I must travel in a wheelchair, more meticulous planning than usual is required. Auto is the best way from Delaware to New York City – straight up the ‘world famous’ New Jersey Turnpike.  Auto no longer an option, other ways would have to be considered. There are only two other viable options: bus or train. Both go to and from the exact same stations. The train is much more expensive, costing up to three times normal fair on an off day.

Knowing the travel-ways would be busy the week before Thanksgiving I decided to plan ahead. Having established Amtrak was too expensive, Greyhound won out as the chosen type transportation.  Being that George lives in Jersey City, it would be more convenient for both, and a closer pick-up/drop-off, If I traveled via bus return trip through Newark’s Penn Station. Greyhound’s website is [still] not the easiest site to navigate. Once able to locate available trip information online I quickly found two convenient departure and arrival segments. As they had a special area to designate, I checked the box for injured travel, with wheelchair as transportation mode. All planned, including wheelchair reservation, I smiled.

My bus departed on a Friday mid-afternoon.  Forty-five minutes before departure I rode an Uber to the Wilmington bus station. The bus arrives and slowly one by one it loads almost full. There, outside in the blustery cold raw elements, I sat and froze. After a few minutes it quickly became clear the bus driver did not have the key required to open the door to the lift so I could properly board.  The driver, from Alabama, was kind and thoughtful, as she sat on hold with dispatch to see how best to proceed with the situation. I requested to get some passers-by to help me onto the bus but the driver declined due to liability. Eventually relenting, one strong fellow passenger, Miguel, lifted me into the first seat. I was on.

As if that was not a peculiar enough start to a trip, it was about to get a bit more interesting. The first omen of many to arrive, once on the bus, appeared when the driver was unsure how to exit downtown Wilmington for the highway to the bridge to New Jersey. She was also unsure which direction on i95 to take, North or South. One goes to Florida, the other to New York, on its way to Maine. Big difference! She entered the entrance to go towards Philadelphia, the wrong way. After directing her through city-center we eventually made it onto the correct highway. After more wrong turns in Newark, getting the bus stuck on tight one-way streets, two and half hours late, we finally arrived at Penn Station, Newark.

George was parked just across the street from the bus station. Upon entering his jeep, he exclaimed he had a long week, was tired of waiting and needed a drink. I concurred. Off to La Fortaleza Mexican restaurant to meet friends we went.  Twenty minutes later, two naked lime margaritas arrived as we awaited our table at the bar.  Ahh, it was time to relax in the company of a long-time close friend. Soon after, other friends joined us for a memorable night out. Their guacamole is luscious; with a nice twist. I ordered beef tacos. After trading two beef for two shrimp tacos I was in taco heaven. Their chocolate covered churros and fried ice cream are highly recommended for dessert. Their food is delicious.

Saturday morning Bikram Yoga comes early. As George’s neighbor was visiting Vietnam, he was dog-sitting Herman, a French Bulldog with an impish grin.  I awoke to my jacket on the floor, covered in slobber. Hermanator swears it was not he who was mischievous in the night. And George thinks perhaps there is more to the story. Ask Herman. Deciding to sleep through Yoga (great session) gave me an extra two hours stretching and preparing before departing to NYC. We had ferry tickets reserved for a 14:00 departure. The ride from Jersey City to NYC midtown takes approx. 12 minutes. Once parked, we met up with Tim, a SAP Software Engineer, who incessantly travels the world implementing software solutions.

The ferry dumps you out on the West Side of Manhattan, midtown section, which now is predominantly taken up with the ever expanding growth of real estate project Hudson Yards. It is the largest private real estate development in the United States, including Chelsea and Hudson Yards neighborhoods of Manhattan. At $25 Billion one would expect some wow factor. It delivers, NY style: in your face. It has an outdoor courtyard with beautifully light-lined trees and various landscapes for walking or sitting to watch people. It is anchored on one end by The Vessel, an eclectic structure and landmark that offers great vistas of lower Manhattan from its lookout deck. The shopping, food and drink are world-class.

The fact Georgie is a foodie, and one of the friends we were meeting out, Steve, is a local NYC hotspot and food critic blogger, was sure to make for a gastro-oenophile connoisseur’s experience of a lifetime.  Not five minutes passed before George arrived with a round of fresh Sangria. Every person circled Mercado Little Spain over and over, each time returning with new exotic and delicious tapas. Mike and Tim also ventured into the unknown abyss for food. Each attempt took a bit longer; the queues were long.  Mike was mistreated by a chef. Steve returned with rabbit-chicken over rice. Then Mike with tasty succulent octopus and paprika potatoes; George with chorizo sausage and tomato bread, and on and on.

Bellies filled, we decided to see Tim’s friend’s jam band play in the West Village. The band did not come on for a few hours and so we headed to Washington Square via Uber. As the area has many obstacles for a wheelchair, and for obvious safety reasons, I am grateful to George and friends for their selfless assistance.  This square, always filled with interesting and unique characters, served as my balcony view when living on 9th St. during my Wall Street days, with clear views of Arc de Triomphe, NYU Library and the [prior] World Trade Center.  As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind: Doing the Dirty Dishes of life is the truest path to real growth. The night’s participants were out in full effect. The night was young.

Only in Washington Square can you find a virtuoso opera singer singing aloud atop a $85K Steinway Grand Piano, sand artist (Joe Mangrum) constructing a Mandela about three meters across, tourists busy snapping photos in front of the Washington Sq. Arch and drug dealers every fifteen feet – “The City,” a class its own, unrivaled on this planet. We left there to take a stroll down Bleecker Street, a street replete with the most delicious of foods, endless comedy show cabarets (hawkers too) and innumerable supply of the odd variety. Oh, and plenty of homeless too, mixed within misfits and unusual people lining the Village streets late into night. The West Village is known for being strange. It always delivers.

The show was at The Red Lion sports bar on Bleecker Street at 21:00. They host rock and blues bands, all while international futbol is broadcast via satellite to TVs throughout the bar. On the way we stopped at Olive Tree, an Israeli restaurant, comedy show below, for hummus and mint tea. Wheeling through the Village streets can be challenging but easily done with some effort. If crowds bother you, better to have someone guide or watch for you. To me, as in life, it is all about our energy. Mine is good, thus those surrounding me are affected in extra-special ways, allowing for pleasant exchanges of acknowledgement and synchronicity of love with complete strangers. The West Village is a people-watcher’s wet dream.

The band performed their original music as well as some covers. They were astounding. Our friend’s friend played the electric violin like no one’s business. This guy could give the devil in Georgia a run for his fiddle.  They were a jam band and jam they did – the whole place was rocking, a good time had by all. After a few hours we decided to try some local eats. It did not take all but two minutes for a consensus: Joe’s Pizza on Carmine Street is the best ‘pie’ in the West Village. The line for slices some nights can go on for hundreds of feet, especially when all the bars let out. We were there early. Eighteen minutes and $26 dollars later, we were in an Uber dreaming of eating the large pepperoni pizza steaming in the box.

As is the case with most those who live and commute in the tri-state (NJ, NY, and CT) area, I spent most of my trip on different sides of the Hudson River, which separates NJ and NYC. The ferry between NYC and NJ is easy and convenient for a wheelchair, with parking close by and flat walkways and docks. A one way ticket during the weekday, $9; discounts on weekends. Once in the city you can expect the normal obstacles, with some neighborhoods’ buildings harder to access than others. Do your research, first. Accessible subways in NYC are hit and miss, many MTA stations have no lift access, or the station is under construction – which seems like the whole system some days. Rider beware (rats inclusive)!

Sunday we decided to stay in NJ. With countless options, as a cold damp rain fell outside, we decided on a football game at home, movie in later afternoon and then some food from the old days. Being in the NY TV market the only two games on were the Giants and Jets. I was forced to watch the Jets – it was tough. Afterward we headed off to see the new movie starring Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which was much better than I had expected. Bow Tie Cinemas in downtown Hoboken is easily accessible, with limited handicap street parking however. Hungry from theater treats, we headed to Mamoun’s for their renowned falafel. It is as delectable as it was twenty-five years ago. Wow!

After delicious Lebanese food in NJ, original location on Bleeker in West Village in NYC, we were off to Newark’s Penn Station for part II of the Greyhound debacle. Life is a journey but sometimes we have smaller unforgettable fiascos along the way. This was one of those strange times. If I didn’t know better I might think there was some LSD in my system. Hmm, maybe some was leftover – sure felt like it. Would that make this Gonzo Journalism?  The weekend was one of those trips in which you are never quite sure which dimension or plane you are living on. It makes way for fresh growth, allowing sun to shine on your garden of life. It is only through struggle, facing our fears, which we truly grow and prosper in life.

Was it my first choice to take Greyhound to the NYC area for a weekend? No, not exactly. I preferred a different mode of transportation. But that was not in my cards. And so the bus it was. It was quite the experience, no doubt expanding my horizons, branches of tree of life and  forming indelible memories. Being that I had lived in NYC many years previous I had no interest in a weekend of the standard tourist hot-spots. It was meant to be a weekend with cherished friends in the Jersey City/NYC area but also turned into a story. It was a most delightful weekend.  The bus was late. I had to be carried on and off again by kind passengers. Such was my experience taking Greyhound.  Next time I will opt for Amtrak!

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Barcelona: Though your beaches are overflowing with caca, your history, architecture, food and culture are spectacular.

Barcelona, Barna to locals, or Barthelona as spoken in Catalonian variety of Spanish, is my favorite city in Spain. This beautiful charming seaside town, the Catalonian capital, second biggest city in Spain, filled with astounding architecture, rich history, vibrant parks, beautiful beaches, world-class museums and art, amazing food and night-life, a great Futbol Club, and world-class culture is sure to bedazzle you.  With buildings abound from Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner, its ever-present art and stunning architecture will delight even the toughest critic. There is something for everyone in Barcelona. You are sure to be enchanted by her relaxed charm, impish modesty and unassuming sophistication.

Since I live in Amsterdam in summer, it was my first time experiencing intra-European Union (EU) travel. How nice to only have to fly a few hours to be in beautiful and sunny Espana. KLM, always the local airline of choice, especially since the only other choice is a regional discount airline that frequently is late or worse yet cancels. Checking in and entering security at Schiphol is fast and convenient. Like most airports, they have special lanes and people to tend to injured travelers. As far as world airports go, Schiphol is top for injured travelers. They have an Assisted Services Department and website with all relevant information. It was a short midday flight with wine, cheese and crackers. Bring on the sangria.

Upon arrival in Spain, after being escorted off the plane in an aisle-chair, also with adequate services at the ready to assist travelers in need, we quickly headed for the exit. Unless I just had a long trans-Ocean flight and am totally knackered, I choose to go the airport alone, denying all attempts at assistance once off the plane and in my own wheelchair. Solo travel has always been my M.O., teaching me to be a one-man travel show. I place my carry-on on my lap, leather bag on top of carry-on (when both packed, up to my chin) and wheel through the airport. Independence in life is refreshing, no matter if injured or not. Though this trip I was traveling with a friend, Joe from Philadelphia – who was visiting me in Amsterdam.

Within fifteen minutes of landing we were through immigration and straight on our way to fun in the sun. The airport is very clean, with accessible toilets. There is no immigration if arriving from another EU member country. When you exit, passport control imprints your passport with an exit-stamp.  When I was a younger world traveler trying to fill as many passports as possible, it mattered. Now, it doesn’t.  As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life begins when the story ends. The taxi queue is just outside the exit. As there is no Uber in Barcelona you have no choice but to use local taxis. They really are not fans of ride-share services – just ask one. Thirty Euros later, we arrived at our hostel – let the fiesta begin.

For the record, the RENFE train system runs from the airport to city center. Trains run every thirty minutes – station located at Terminal 2. Metro line L9 Sud, Aerobus express service, as well as TMB Airport Bus (#46) and Airport Night Bus (N17) all take you to city center (info). FTC, Tram and buses are all accessible; Metro stations with “Y” have lift access (check map). Some beaches have accessible pathways. We decided on staying at the Generator Hostel. The hostel, with locations throughout Europe, is centrally located in the city, not a far stroll to the old city and beach. It has an elevator and accessible rooms – two bars and a restaurant. All safe, we reserved an accessible room beforehand.

As is the case with almost all injured travel, upon attempting check-in at the hostel, our room was taken. Hence what makes injured travel such an even bigger challenge than bipedal adventures. We had intentionally reserved an upgraded room with balcony and view of the sea. In the end, they gave us two choices: 1. a larger accessible room with no balcony or 2. smaller non-accessible room with a balcony and beautiful views of the city, La Sagrada and ocean. Easy choice – we opted for the vista. By this point of the summer Joe was used to carrying me places. On the way he had to carry me to the last row of the plane. The crew said they never had a wheelchair passenger – he saved them a lot of time and hassle.

Well, the room certainly had a beautiful balcony with a stunning panorama of the ocean but I could not access it. Nor could I access the bathroom in our upgraded ‘room with a view.’ I had to ask them to place an extra chair in the bathroom so I could transfer from the wheelchair to the chair to the toilet. A triple play! It is not fun, especially when tired or in a rush to get to the toilet, itself already a strenuous task. It would have to do. In life, it is always best when given lemons to buck-up and make lemonade. The exit to the balcony had a large lip which impeded the wheelchair. Joe had to lift me from my wheelchair to a balcony chair outside. Once there, I was in heaven. With the view, I could stay for hours. And I did.

The hostel, located in the electrifying section of Gracia, a bohemian refuge with old-city ambiance, close to tourist attractions, thrilling eclectic districts with muy delicioso tapas, cava, sangria and dance, and the beach, is the best deal for the money.  It is situated on a main thoroughfare, allowing easy access to taxis or public transport.  Even though most of the city is accessible, with Spain generally cheaper than most other big cities in Europe, I always opt for taxi transportation when practical. Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo apartments are a close walk. Mouthwatering artisan cafes and urban street food are located in the neighborhood. It is close to Las Ramblas, a great central location from which to explore the city.

There is a restaurant on the base level of the hostel; buffet breakfast and a la-carte lunch and dinner available from 07:00 to 22:00.  Multiple other fine cuisine options exist within walking distance.  The Fiesta Gracia Bar, also located on the base floor, has diverse craft beers and small bar bites and snacks. I recommend the bombas. As well, located atop the hostel, there is a bar. As there are stairs leading to the roof-top bar, it was not easily accessible to me.  Joe could have carried me but we never needed a drink bad enough to venture there. Travel in Spain definitely is a clear example of Doing The Dirty Dishes in life. The food at the hostel, and across the street at Pikio Takio, is convenient, cheap and delectable.

We spent much time relaxing on the patio of our hostel room – with beautiful panoramic views of the ocean, Gothic quarter (known locally as El Barri) – part of the old town (Ciutat Vella), Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and neighboring districts – quickly becoming our refuge. There is a certain peace that overcomes a person when able to sit in beauty and calm whilst the chaos of the outside world continues on. There are many clubs and Catalan restaurants close-by. If you wish to partake in actividades verde in Barna, than you need to patronize a different type club. Membership is required (tourists can join one year), limits on amounts purchased and must spend fifteen minutes there first before leaving the club.

One day we decided to venture out into the city. Western Europe was in the middle of a bad heat wave, but thankfully the sea breeze and geographic location of Barthelona provided a respite from the extreme oppressive warmth.  La Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gaudi’s unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica masterpiece, was our first stop. Who let the tourists out?! It did not take long before this site was overrun by photo snapping sightseers, many almost getting seriously injured by passing cars while jockeying in the road for the perfect selfie. Obligatory basilica photograph out of the way, it was time to escape the insanity.  The thought of some local Catalan sangria could not be ignored.

But that would have to wait. Just as we escaped the madness at the basilica we decided to take a quick city tour on a hop-on hop-off bus. The ticket was surprisingly more expensive in Barcelona than other cities in Europe but it is an easy and convenient way to see numerous sites of many cities. Our trip was short and so did not allow enough time to venture out on foot to every desired spot. And the bus is also convenient for the wheelchair. Plus it saves wear and tear on my shoulders and body – energy better left for the evening, when the city comes alive and it is most needed. They cover all the must-sees, with 31 stops – choice is yours. There are two interchangeable routes, East and West; passes are also available.

Later that day, unsure what to do as the afternoon sun shined bright, we decided to take a journey to the beach to see what it entailed. Other than ocean water filled with feces from the Barcelona city sewer system. Yes, you read that correctly: All the poop and pee from the residents of Barna dump right into the ocean, the same one you experience when swimming on Platja de La Barceloneta to Platja de la Mar Bella. There is a long cement strand along the beach where you can easily walk with astonishing views of the beach and ocean. There are beach clubs – entering at street level, descending one floor via elevator to beach level – where beautiful women serve you traditional style sangria. Five pitchers later….

Our last day was spent roaming the narrow medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). During the day craftspeople pedal their wares, mostly hand-made, by the Cathedral of Barcelona (Catedral de Barcelona). The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (its official name) is a Gothic cathedral, constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. At night the district’s trendy bars and Catalan restaurants come alive. No one ever accused the Spanish of bad food or an inability to have fun. If you are looking for a great time, night-life like no other, tapas that will leave indelible marks on your world ’best-of’ menu, an experience forever ingrained on your soul, save the poop, than Barthelona is for you.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Amsterdam, Hampsterdam, Amsterschlam – All happiness aside, man-crush unrelated, I think I love you.

Each and every year Holland makes the list of top ten happiest countries in the world to live. US is third, on worst list, just behind India and China. Amsterdam is always listed on top happiest cities to live, as well. It is true, it is a happy city and country to visit or live. She has become my mistress, sometimes jealous. I first visited her over twenty-five years ago with a close friend from Germany. Ever since I have returned to her over and over, each time her seductive siren singing me home.  Having traveled and lived all over the planet, including while injured, Amsterdam is still one of my top three favorite places in the world.  And one reason I spend almost half each year living there living as a writer and speaker.

My eighteenth birthday had just passed and a friend from Europe invited me to visit. His family had a home in the mountains of Tyrol, Austria, where we would go skiing for fourteen days. Funny enough, this region is sometimes referred to as the Dutch Alps. He had some spare time available to travel within Europe after winter holiday. I extended my return flight home. He had an idea to take a trip to visit Holland. Sure, Tom, but where would we go? “Well, Steven,” he said, “I know you have always wanted to visit crazy and wild Amsterdam, so let’s do it!” Really? Finally – I get to visit Amsterdam?! I was overly excited with the idea of visiting a city I dreamed about finally coming true. That day arrived.

At the time, Tommy was living in Moenchengladbach, Germany, a few hour drive to Amsterdam.  Originally we met while he was an AFS exchange student at our town high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He was staying with friends of mine who frequently hosted foreign exchange students. My family friend was a bit older but since his younger brother, Baby-Snooks, was Tommy’s age, we often mingled among a similar group of shared friends. Over time our friendship grew and I began inviting him on weekend trips to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.  At my cabin, with so many other great friends, unforgettable memories were made. The woods of PA have never been the same.

Upon first entering Holland on our European road trip we found a nice local coffee shop. We pulled the car over by a field, parked, and smoked a celebratory true Dutch joint. It was my first, but not my last. At the time marijuana was still illegal in most the world. Amsterdam was the Mecca for all young partiers on the planet, for all things drugs. 1980s created a new type party scene, which Amsterdam was glad to have played a key part.  Even though cannabis is not technically legal in Holland, it is treated as such, especially regarding tourists – as that is one of the great attractive draws to many visiting Amsterdam – the famous coffee shop, accounting for up to 30% of tourism. Pulp Fiction only perpetuated the image.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. I traveled many places before but none paled in comparison to the feral times that weekend in Holland. Amsterdam is a free city, it is overly ecstatic; the people are happy there, as is the earth’s energy. The buildings and architecture, narrow houses with gabled facades, are breathtaking. With everyone outside enjoying summer solstice, the city takes on a unique energy and feel. The famed canals meander in all directions, weaving through cobblestone streets and tree-lined neighborhoods. Everyone rides a bike; museums are everywhere. The Red Light District, a place of famed debauchery – no doubt a place of Conception, just not Immaculate.

Amsterdam, located on and named after the river Amstel, cultural capital of the Netherlands, population 900,000 within city proper, originating as a small fishing village from the 12th Century, also called the Venice of the North, is currently a major city of worldwide influence. Many multinational companies have their headquarters there.  And now with Brexit looming that number only seems to be growing larger. Amsterdam became an incredibly important world port during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century.  Amsterdam is most known for its UNESCO historic canals, oldest stock exchange in existence, Rijks, Stedelijk and Van Gogh Museums, Anne Frank house, Heineken Brewery and the Royal Palace.

Since the year of my first visit much time has passed, and much has changed. No longer am I the young immature googly-eyed American traveler seeing the world for the first time.  Now an older and more experienced world traveler, having lived all over the globe, suffering a serious accident eight years prior, rendering me a quadriplegic, who is now 80% recovered, traveling the world, blogging about injured travel. After my tragic accident in Philadelphia in 2011 I was unable to travel. At first, I was unable to move any limbs, and now I am learning to walk again. Amsterdam was to be my first trip abroad again in 2018, but this time as an injured traveler. What would she be like? Would she remember me?

A couple weeks before departure, a friend who was joining me on the trip canceled. It left me in a bad bind economically and physically. I was depending on his helping with hotel bills and assisting my injury. Having not traveled on a plane or abroad while injured, it was more comfortable having someone there to help assist me. Should I cancel or move forward, forge head-on into the storm and see the outcome? I was far enough ahead in my injury and recovery to understand the only true growth in life results through tackling our greatest obstacles, hardships that otherwise would knock us down. Only by facing our deepest darkest inner fears can we find our way to light. She remembered me. She still loved me.

She welcomed me back with both arms wide open. She missed me. I missed her; feelings were mutual. I was happy to be back in her sweet embrace. After a long trans-Atlantic flight, first thing after landing and clearing immigration and customs, I had to attach hand controls to my rental car. Twenty minutes later I was on the highway, on my way to a hostel in Amsterdam.  It all seemed so uncannily familiar, very eerily comfortable, as if there in a prior lifetime.  What was I doing here? Jesus, Steven, you love adventure but is this smart? These were the type thoughts going through my head.  Deep inside I knew I was where I was meant to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing. A calm peace came upon me.

In no time I was navigating my rental car through the inner streets of Amsterdam. Shortly after, I was parking and checking myself into the hostel. I was doing The Dirty Dishes of Life – I was living my life without obstacles, I was living life again.  It was only a matter of minutes before I felt an overwhelming happy and loving energy envelop me – I smiled. I was in the right place. There are no mistakes in life. That summer I made many new spectacular friends in Holland. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind, once the story ends, life begins. Get off the horse and start living! The tree of life was blossoming for me in new and exciting ways. Life was smiling down upon me. I was smiling back.

Later that summer I returned to Holland again for another five weeks. Europe was in the grips of a heat wave. It felt close to the same temperatures in Philadelphia – hot and sticky. This trip was even better. Friendships continued to blossom. As I felt closer to the energy and people of Amsterdam, every-day life became more relaxed. Life did not feel as if a tourist.  My goal was never to feel like a tourist anywhere I traveled, but some places were harder to acclimate than others.  Most of my time was spent around the hostel conversing with local friends and tourists. Each day a fresh supply of new personalities arrived, a veritable smorgasbord of people to observe and explore, especially for a newly minted psychologist.

Seven countries later, I was a bit more seasoned travelling in a wheelchair. This past summer I decided I would spend the whole period in Amsterdam.  When I arrived at the airport someone was waiting for me. Denis, a taxi driver I had met the previous summer, was a friend of mine who now owned an airport transport company. Schiphol airport is easily accessible in a wheelchair, with assistant services available. Handicap bathrooms are plentiful – super clean too. This trip I was joined by the same friend who canceled on me the previous year, Joe. Love and forgiveness have ways of altering the sands of time. I was welcomed at the hostel by a friend Rich, Dominican and Norwegian, who recently moved to Amsterdam. We celebrated my arrival home.

This summer I rented a flat in a beautiful, tree-lined, quiet neighborhood, close to the park in East Amsterdam. An area previous undesirable had become very desirable, and expensive. Until my place became free I stayed at a hostel, a hostel I know all too well. They are based out of UK and have locations in over 14 major European cities. I have stayed at many locations. Generator Hostel in Amsterdam is the best choice you will find for an amazing balance of price and customer experience. It is more expensive than others as there are better guests. The hostel has accessible rooms, accessible bathrooms, a ramp out the back door, an auditorium and elevator; also a café, library and three bars.

The hostel is located on Oostpark, a park with ponds where you can swim (in between goose feathers and poop), with plenty of verdant space to lay about talking or puffing with friends. As with almost all parks in Amsterdam, there is a walk-path that is paved. So getting around in a chair in the many parks within the city is easy. A local tram line is also just a five minute walk from the hostel. To city-center by tram is twenty minutes. All new trams, most old, are wheelchair accessible – look for pink ITS symbol. All 33 Metro stations are accessible.  Buses and trains are also accessible; trains require a reservation. There is handicap accessible parking in Amsterdam but it is inadequate. Normal parking is too.

The city might be called the ‘city of museums’.  There are over fifty museums in Amsterdam, displaying some of the finest art collections in the world. All museums I visited were wheelchair accessible; though beware cobblestone streets in Centrum. MOCO has very steep steps and requires help getting you to the top. The Anne Frank house is not accessible, however the museum is by appointment. The Van Gogh Museum is a must see. South of Leidseplein square, the big major museums sit on Museumplein, a large grass filled square with a fountain and reflective water pool, where tourists and locals sit in the summer sun to drink and smoke, having conversation late into the midnight sun. Oh, het is heel leuk.

One night we went out in the club part of the city with my friend Sergio, a Surinamese eclectic music- man, show promoter.  Another night at the flat I hosted a freestyle rap session with local wordsmith Silvio Cohen and Kanna Man from UK. Last summer I met Daniel from UK. It turns out he produces a well known rapper from UK. Our star-deck was a meeting place for good friends and even greater nightly philosophical and spiritual conversation. We hosted many guests this summer. Norbert and Ula, two good friends from Poland, came to visit for a week. We had so much fun. Though we did not make it to the Zoo this summer we did add an annual smoke-boat canal tour.  Jolly times on the high-seas.

Two weeks of summer were spent at the beach region of Holland. A good friend, Thiandi, a local author, poet and activist, invited us to stay at her family beach home in Castricum. The town is a forty-minute drive by car, or twenty via train from Amsterdam. Castricum is a popular weekend beach getaway. The area has a lot of camping, including tent, pull-behind and RV. The beach is nearby and has an easily accessible wheelchair through-way. There is ample parking close-by. One weekend we were treated to a delicious BBQ with old friends in Bergen, Steffan, Rixt and Niels – with a village cheese market voted top in Holland.  It was a splendid summer at the beach with our adopted Dutch family, Trix, Jose and Simba.

There are endless events to attend, places to visit and things to do and see in Amsterdam. I could write a book about my extraordinary experiences there. It is a great city as a base in which to plan smaller trips throughout Europe. This summer I was also able to visit Belgium, Germany and Spain. Holland is a progressive country that supports laws for handicap access, especially in public places. Amsterdam is a city that is wheelchair friendly. Just beware of the bikers – ALWAYS.  The bike paths are sometimes better than the roads; and bikers have more rights than drivers – totally serious. Watch out for the bike lane – even while in a wheelchair I was screamed at. Welcome to Amsterdam. I am in love. I shall return.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

SEC Football Stadium Accessibility – Volunteers at University of Tennessee, Knoxville Do it Right!

It was a long weekend at the mining site, resulting in departing home on an early Saturday morning instead of Friday afternoon as we were accustomed. We were tired but after our third flight the beers were flowing, as were our spirits. Single at the time, I did not mind being stuck in any city on any given weekend. Big Sexy AKA Alex and I were sitting at a Toronto, Canada airport terminal sports bar enjoying great conversation and some college football whilst awaiting boarding flights to our home bases. Mine was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Big Sexy’s in Nashville, Tennessee.  All the sudden, out of left field, an invite came from Alex: “Come to Tennessee for a game?” Wait! What?!

Immediately rebuffing Alex’s attempt at being a polite Southern gentleman, inviting me down to his neck of the woods, the South, for a SEC college football game, I smiled. And I am a Vols fan too. Hmmm, could it be true? Alex stated: “I assure you in Tennessee we are sincere, if we make an invite it is authentic, it is real. None of that sugar-and-spice, all things nice you find in some other Southern States.” I told Big Sexy that his reply sounded more like sugar-and-spice than ever before. He laughed as he said “Come on down and see for yourself.” At the time Alex made the invite we were working for DeBeers diamond mines in the far north of Canada as management consultants.  Much had changed.

Seven years later, a book about meeting an express train rendering me a quadriplegic published, Alex once again brought up the idea of going to a Vols game.  By this time in my recovery I was comfortable attempting attending a college football game, and all it involved. But the dates just could not work. One year later, a new friend, also in a wheelchair, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in conversation made an invite to attend a LSU Tigers game. After quickly figuring out her invite was traditional ‘Southern spice’ – also known as BS – it was back to square one. Then a text arrived from Alex. He found a game date, and would it work for me? I replied I was in Europe for summer, would check schedule and advise.

Two weeks later, my summer and fall starting taking shape, and it appeared the weekend Alex wanted to finally see a Volunteers game together, I was free. But I would have a friend joining me. Alex did not mind as he had three tickets and was happy to break another SEC fan’s cherry by attending not only his first SEC college football game, but also his first Volunteers game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville – home to the 4th largest college stadium in the US, seating capacity 102,455. The finer details still needed to be worked out. For now it was on – me and a friend would be venturing down south to Tennessee to see our first SEC game at Neyland Stadium. We were thrilled to the brim at the idea of the trip.

A few weeks before the game I inquired with Alex to see if our seats were handicap accessible or not. I was aware that Neyland, a very old stadium, has some parts dating from early 1900s, thus making accessibility a potential issue.  Our seats were not accessible, in fact. An idea came to mind. Alex, don’t worry about seating, I will call the Athletic office to see if they can find us some nice accessible seats. I will do a story on the stadium and my experience Doing The Dirty Dishes of life, attending a game there in a wheelchair.  He loved the idea. Well, it turned out, UT-Knoxville did as well. Now, instead of sitting in the nose-bleeds, we were front-and-center, end zone, first row, pro-gratis.

Originally I wrote a letter to the Assoc. Dir. of Athletics for Communication, Tom Satkowiak. He put me in contact with a Manager in event coordination, Angie Doyle. She put me in contact with someone at the ticket office – “Will the ticket man,” self-described, and super helpful. Tickets sorted, not a minute passed, and Angie fired off an email with all the information specifically needed for handicap parking, and direction to special handicap accessible buses that would shuttle us to the stadium.  It was quickly becoming clear I was dealing with a momentous event of serious proportions that would take proper planning and execution. It was also clear the level of professionalism of all UT-K staff was a step ahead.

Angie momentarily sent an email with descriptions of many types events, activities and other pertinent information leading up the game. We would have to arrive early. Early as in 8am or so! I had heard SEC fans liked to party early before noon games but did not think they were serious. Oh yes they were. We arrived at the stadium early that morning, the streets already buzzing with activity. It was fixing to be a hot day too, according to the forecast. We followed Angie’s directions, parking at the Agriculture Campus, where they had a special lot reserved with over 120 parking spots. And it was free, too. Bonus at a time when parking can exceed forty dollars, beers fourteen dollars, etc. at events.

The school’s athletic department has a ‘Game Day’ page where fans can find out upcoming game time, critical updates of any kind, along with stadium rules and regulations. There is an information tab clearly marked for accessible/ADA seating. There you can find information on parking, entry and seating. For those sitting in the upper levels, please check with the ticket office as you may need access to an elevator, which requires a pass. The website also describes the various game day festivities offered – there are many:  The Vol Walk, Band March, Volunteer Village, Tennessee Park, Kickoff Call-In Show and Tailgate Tennessee are a few of the endless activities offered prior to every home game.

The morning of the game we arrived bright and early, securely parking at the Agriculture Campus. The campus was very easy to find; police and event staff could be found every fifteen feet. Within minutes of parking we were in line for special accessible buses that would take us to the stadium. Only ten minutes passed before we were approached, given wristbands to enter and exit transport buses, and readied to board. Since I was traveling with a friend from home, Joe, and a friend from Nashville, Alex, we would need room for three. There was never an issue, at any point – the staff was always more than accommodating. Within thirty minutes of parking our car, we were off to see our first SEC game.

As we embarked on the short drive from our parking lot to Neyland Stadium, excitement was in the air, palpable on the bus and extending well beyond to the endless throngs of people outside, all slowly making their way to the stadium. There was no lack of tailgating everywhere, food and drink abound. They were not joking – it is serious business in Tennessee.  As long as you were wearing orange you were welcome to eat and drink as much as you liked, you were treated like family. Every direction you turned someone in orange was ready to offer a smile, beer, burger or laugh. The hospitality of the people of Tennessee is real – it can be felt.  Finally, fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the stadium.

Luckily we were dropped off close to the ticket office and also gate we needed to enter stadium. As there were large crowds of people gathering near the entrance I asked Alex to please sort out the tickets. Five minutes later Big Sexy appeared with three seats in Section Y9, Seats 4,5,6.  Ready to go, a polite event supervisor approached to inform us of a special medical entrance that would allow for a more convenient way into stadium. Everywhere we turned there was a fan or staff ready to help, incessantly offering any assistance they were able, always with a big Tennessee smile. We followed his directions and minutes later entered the stadium. The excitement in the air could be cut with a knife.

Game time close, Alex, the polite TN host he is, offered up first round of drinks.  At the same time, a gentleman from the main gate following us, two chairs in tow, lead us to our seats. As we entered a blinding sea of orange came upon us. They sat us in the best seats in the house, with amazing views of football play and fan shenanigans, on all sides. John, the host of our section, a Yankee originally from Michigan, had his house in order. The whole game he made sure we had a clear view of the field, as did fellow fans. It was as if we were being treated as VIPs, though we were in all orange and bought a seat like everyone else. Tennessee really knows how to make a couple first-timers feel incredibly welcome.

As could be expected, as with pre-game activities, there were a number of other great Volunteer traditions in order as time to kickoff approached  closer. Only recently had they started selling alcohol at the stadium, resulting simply in higher levels of fanaticism.  Though I am not too sure the fans needed much help. Somehow I couldn’t imagine counting the number of eggs and beers breakfasts served. Oh, with sausage biscuits and gravy, of course. The band began playing on the field – the anticipation of kickoff looming larger. Soon the Field Commander entered – closing out his five-star performance as the band split into a “T” – allowing team to enter field through “T.” All the while, Rocky Top played aloud.

There was no lack of delicious food or drink on the first floor main concourse for purchase. Bathrooms were plentiful; one never a far distance.  Within thirty feet walk of our seats there were two bathrooms, both with handicap accessible stalls.  Thankfully I was spared testing the facilities, though they looked amazingly clean for a stadium that sits over 100K fans. John was the consummate host, always checking in to see how we were doing, seeing if there was anything we needed.  He served as a great photographer as well. A magnificent time was had by all. The game was spectacular; the seats even more so. The fans were the nicest I have ever encountered at a stadium. And we won, double bonus!

Leaving the stadium was just as easy as entering – right in front. We exited the same gate as we entered and within minutes were in line for accessible shuttle buses returning back to the Agriculture Campus.  Fans were orderly and polite, lending a smile or joke whenever possible. The Vols had just won a game after the worst start to a football year since 1988. Fifteen minutes or so and we were being loaded onto a bus to take us back to our car. The bus driver tied me in, asked me if I needed anything, and we were on our way. It took no time at all to make it back to our parking lot. A few minutes later we were exiting the campus, entering highway on our way back to Nashville for two more exciting days.

The system they have in place in Knoxville for football games is meticulously well thought out. Bus lanes and pedestrian walkways ensure one quick access throughout stadium grounds. Event staff can be found as easily as a Southern Baptist Church on Sunday. There are no lack of signage or clear directions on flow of pedestrians and traffic. The stadium was entirely accessible, a totally stress-free experience. The food and drink offered were more than adequate. The staff working inside the game was more than helpful, always willing to lend a hand. Our greatest thanks and gratitude goes out to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville – all their staff, players and fans. We had an unforgettable experience. Thank you. Go Vols!

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.